Sad­dle up and ride around Barcelona

Mart­inBrig­g­sex­plores beau­ti­fulBarcelon­aby­bi­cy­cle

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - PROPERTY -

BARCELONA has a magic ring to it.

The gui de books pr omised us a plethora of ar­chi­tec­tural de­lights. The Costa Brava also seemed an at­trac­tive cy­cle-tour­ing des­ti­na­tion.

In­land, the old rail­way lines had been torn up to al­low for moun­tain bik­ing routes. Th­ese have a gen­tle in­cline, mak­ing them ideal for cycling, as we’d pre­vi­ously found out on a tour of Bri­tain’s Peak District.

We packed our moun­tain bikes since we would be cycling with the younger gen­er­a­tion. Our son and his wife were en­ter­ing Spain from the north af­ter tour­ing, com­plete with camp­ing gear and moun­tain bikes, so we planned to cy­cle up the Costa Brava to meet them.

At the air­port af­ter our 17-hour flight, we ma­neu­vered our bikes and bags through cus­toms then l ugged them onto the train into Barcelona.

At the Sants taxi rank we loaded the bikes into a sta­tion wagon and were soon at the ho­tel.

Our first out­ing was on the fu­nic­u­lar, the first leg of the trip up Mon­tjuic.

The r ack t r ai n t r avels above t he apart­ment blocks to exit at the lower sta­tion of the an aerial cable­way

Views from the were splen­did but from the Castell de Mon­tjuic on top, the views were quite spec­tac­u­lar. I could not help com­par­ing Barcelona with Cape Town. We’d al­ready noted prom­i­nent sim­i­lar­i­ties on the flight in – a port city sim­mer­ing in sun­shine, the port over­looked by this vi ew­point, and t he whole ci t y s ur­rounded by moun­tains.

From our view­point on the cas­tle’s for­ti­fi­ca­tions, the work­ing har­bour com­plex stretched out be­low all the way to the air­port.

From the north­ern Castell walls, we gazed across the city to make out the parks we’d read about and there was t he must-s e e c a t hedral of t he Sagrada Fa­milia.

With such a prom­i­nent po­si­tion, Mon­tjuic and the Castell played a piv­otal role through­out the his­tory of this city. I was fas­ci­nated by the ar­tillery – mas­sive can­nons still in place I could clam­ber over.

Al­though os­ten­si­bly to de­fend the port, in the 1840s th­ese can­nons had fired on “in­sur­gents” – prob­a­bly just dis­grun­tled cit­i­zens ri­ot­ing in the streets be­low.

About 460 houses had been de­stroyed, and as re­cently as 1940, Pres­i­dent Lluis Com­pa­nys was ex­e­cuted in this cas­tle.

We learnt that the fight for the in­de­pen­dence of Cat­alo­nia in­volved this cas­tle, and now I be­gan to un­der­stand the graf­fiti, “Catalunya is not Spain”.

Later, as we headed north from Barcelona, we en­coun­tered more and more of the Cata­lan lan­guage in menus and timeta­bles, dis­con­cert­ing to the tourist re­ly­ing on the Castil­ian Span­ish phrase book!

As the light faded, we set off down- hill on foot, since we now knew our way home. Roads and path­ways zi gzag d o wn , a f f o r d i n g v i e ws o f t h e o l d har­bour with its own cable­way. The rel­a­tively an­cient har­bour cable­way, the Trans­bor­dador Aeri, pro­vided a dif­fer­ent ac­cess to Mon­tjuic.

And here you can for­give us Capeto­ni­ans for be­ing con­fused, ac­cus­tomed a s w e a r e t o o u r o n l y c a b l e w a y. Barcelona makes max­i­mum use of th­ese ca­ble­ways to pro­vide tourists with stun­ning views, thereby show­cas­ing the city in a va­ri­ety of ways.

Mon­tjuic was cleaned up when the city fathers put in their Olympic bid. With their suc­cess, one side of the hill com­plex was turned into the Olympic city for which Barcelona is now fa­mous. That night, fol­low­ing a tip in the

guide, we dis­cov­ered what was to be our “reg­u­lar”, a tiny booth in the wall on a square close to our ho­tel, which served good, whole­some food. What more could travel-weary tourists want than no queu­ing, rapid ser­vice and a plate full of no-non­sense grub. La Solea pro­vided all this in a pleas­ant lit­tle plaza where chil­dren came out to run around and gran­nies sat qui­etly, nod­ding off.

We headed out be­fore the crowds, on foot through the maze of streets form­ing the Barri Gotic, neigh­bour­hood to the Sagrada Fa­milia, the fa­mous Church of the Holy Fam­ily.

We avoided t he t empt­ing si ghts along the way. Even so, the queue went around the cor­ner.

We also learnt it was a good idea to buy the ticket that in­cluded a ride in the lift up one of the struc­ture’s nar­row tow­ers.

We crammed into the rick­ety lift and soared for a seem­ingly end­less ride.

At the top we needed to hold onto the walls, try­ing bravely to sup­press the ver­tigo as we looked out over the city. Looking across to other tow­ers with their at­ten­dant cranes – still in the process of be­ing built – brought home to us the un­usual sit­u­a­tion this build­ing finds it­self in.

All other Euro­pean cathe­drals have long since been com­pleted. Not so the Sagrada Fa­milia, and prob­a­bly not for an­other 40 or 50 years.

A visit to the mu­seum in the base­ment helped to ex­plain the com­plex­ity of Gaudí’s role in it, and why it would all take so long to com­plete

Our walk back through the Barri Gotic led us into the area of the Ro­man build­ings. The Ro­mans founded the small town which they named Bar­cino, and for­ti­fied it with mas­sive walls, which are still vis­i­ble but in­cor­po­rated into mod­ern build­ings.

Back at the coast, we made for the Torre de Sant Se­bas­tia, the tower that is t he s t art of t he Trans­bor­dador Aeri cable­way up to Mon­tjuic.

The cable­way, com­pleted in 1929, runs from the Torre de Sant Se­bas­tia on the main jetty, across the har­bour to the Torre de Jaume I on an­other jetty and, from there, up to Avin­guda Mi­ra­mar on Mon­tjuic.

The ca­ble car was a wooden af­fair, un­changed af­ter decades of use, but it af­forded us a bird’s eye view of t he yacht ma­rina.

We had bagged two breath­tak­ing cable­way rides in two days. We won­dered how Cape Town can com­pete for tourists with its one cable­way.

The next day, be­fore the city awoke, I cy­cled in the di­rec­tion of the beach for a swim.

The city beaches had un­der­gone a mas­sive clean-up and I could hap­pily swim right at the har­bour wall, leav­ing my bike safely on the beach.

On the way back to the ho­tel, the traf­fic had in­creased and I had to obey the rules and stick to the cy­cle lanes.

On our street, Avda Par­al­lel, des­ig­nated cy­cle lanes sep­a­rated cy­clists from road traf­fic and we had our own stop­lights.

On my early Sun­day morn­ing cy­cle to the beach, I had to weave my way through throngs of young folk dressed in skimpy evening at­tire. Th­ese all-night rev­ellers were emerg­ing from the night clubs along Avda Par­al­lel. Barcelona’s night clubs are well known through­out Europe.

With free time, we set out to find an­other restau­rant rec­om­mended in the guide books. Even though we’d high­lighted a num­ber in prox­im­ity, we came up empty handed. They were ei­ther closed on Sun­day, or only opened at 9.30pm.

On our fi­nal day we dis­cov­ered the rea­son for the long queue at the iconic Les Quinze Nits restau­rant – folk were queu­ing to en­ter at open­ing time. Our 20 min­utes spent queu­ing en­sured us a de­li­cious meal im­pec­ca­bly served at a very rea­son­able price.

Cycling in Barcelona proved to be much safer than the guide books made out. Per­haps t hey were com­par­ing Barcelona t o other Euro­pean citi es. Even icy Copen­hagen is well known for its cy­cle friend­li­ness – an ex­pe­ri­ence which we have en­joyed

Barcelona rev­els in sports. Parks, works of art and stat­ues re­mind me of the glory of the 1992 Olympic games.

Flights: We choose KLM from pre­vi­ous ex­pe­ri­ences with bi­cy­cles. You have to check air­lines’ web­sites for their charges.

Ini­tially KLM were go­ing to add 80 per bike per flight, but for­tu­nately the air­line dropped this charge. How­ever, we had to take a print-out to c onvi nc e t he Cape To wn c hec k - i n counter of this up­date.

Trans­port of bike: De­pend­ing on the v a l u e o f t h e b i k e a n d t h e a i r l i n e ’s re­quire­ments, one can: Dis­man­tle and pack the bike in a bike box ob­tain­able (free) from a bike shop; Par­tially dis­man­tle and pack the bike in a bike bag or bike case (bought from a bike shop); or Bub­ble-wrap the ex­posed parts (the bub­ble wrap ser­vice at the air­port will do this at a price). A c c o m m o d a t i o n : Tw o - a n d three-star ho­tels are great. Our Ho­tel Par­alel-lel cost 97 for the dou­ble room a night plus 19 for break­fast for two.

Visas: South Africa cit­i­zens have to ap­ply for a Shen­gen visa.

Drinks: Half tinto (500ml red wine) costs 6.50.

Meals: A sub­stan­tial meal for two hun­gry cy­clists, in­clud­ing half tinto and de­li­cious ice cream costs 60.50.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from South Africa

© PressReader. All rights reserved.